February 20, 2009

REVIEW: 2009 Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts

This year I was once again
able to see the five Best Animated Short Film nominees in the theater, which I still strongly recommend you do when they come to a theater near you, even though you can currently watch four of the five online. A bonus if you go to the theater, though - you get to see the five "highly commended" shorts that didn't make the cut as nominees: Varmints (UK), John and Karen (UK), Gopher Broke (U.S.), Skhizein (France), and Hot Dog (U.S.). Of these, John and Karen was possibly my favorite (watch it online). Varmints was visually arresting but a bit long at 24 minutes, and Skhizein was a Charlie Kaufman film from start to finish. The other two - both American films - were decent at best, unimaginative and immature at worst.

The nominees:

La Maison en Petits Cubes
- (Japan, 12 min):

  • My personal pick for the best of this year's bunch, La Maison en Petits Cubes is a heartbreaking and evocative story of an elderly man hanging on to a lifetime of memories as his house gradually floods. Animated in what appears to be watercolor or pencil, it also boasts one of the best musical scores I heard all year (short film or feature film), and it brought many in the theater to tears. Tragically, La Maison en Petits Cubes is the only one of the shorts currently unavailable for viewing online. Update: I found it - watch it here!  

    Lavatory - Lovestory - (Russia, 10 min)

    • A cute romantic story about a lovelorn public restroom attendant, this black-and-white sketched film is curiously captivating. It may be a minute or two longer than necessary, but the ending is a great payoff and I admire its simplicity.
    Oktapodi - (France, 3 min)

    • Short, sweet, and sharply edited, this screwball story of octopus love looked fantastic on the big screen. I'm sure there was a temptation to make this longer, but the filmmakers probably didn't want to run out of steam and lose the comedic momentum. If Finding Nemo hadn't already been made, it's possible this might have been stretched into a feature.
    Presto - (U.S., 5 min)

    • Most everyone who saw WALL*E in the theater has already had the pleasure of seeing Pixar's Presto. For me, the second time around wasn't nearly as funny. Cute rabbit, but a little too repetitive for my taste, and it seemed to be playing for cheap laughs more than anything else. I don't know, I guess I'm just a little annoyed that this is the likely winner, possibly due to an overflow of love for WALL*E. Then again, Pixar shorts have lost in previous years...
    This Way Up - (UK, 9 min)

    • A pair of undertakers (father and son) run into all kinds of trouble on their way to the cemetery in this macabre comedy. It's impressively animated and consistently entertaining, but it didn't have me rolling in the aisles like seemingly everyone else in the theater. Nonetheless, it's an above average short film and deserves to be nominated.
    I'm thinking it will come down to Presto or La Maison en Petits Cubes. The latter is far and away my preference, but I'm just too nervous about Pixar's power, so Presto remains my prediction as the winner. Hope I'm wrong...


    1. I saw these, as well, and I get what you're saying about Pixar's power. On another website someone described having a Pixar film in the short animated film category is like bringing a gun to a knife fight. In a way I sort of agree, and if Pixar weren't there, I'd say La Maison en Petits Cubes would have my backing all the way.

      My preference is still Presto, though, which (although all the Pixar shorts are sans dialogue) I thought brought a certain Keaton-inspired slapstick that paired well with the Chaplin-esque pathos of Wall•E. That pairing has colored every other viewing of Presto for me, and since I don't think the Academy will honor Pixar multiple times there, Le Maison is fitting for the win.

    2. Thanks, T.S. Indeed, the pairing with WALL*E as the Best Animated Film overall is probably the greatest advantage any of the shorts could have - on paper. You make an interesting point about a double Pixar win, though. If the voters think shrewdly enough to avoid that I would be surprised, but I hope that they would vote for La Maison because of its quality. I would really love to see that one again, or just hear the music again.

    3. I too saw these shorts this past weekend, and La Maison en Petits Cubes was my absolute favourite as well. Thanks for the link Danny, added it to a post of mine, hope more people see it. Wonder if I should review them too...

      Anyway, Presto was my second favourite, and it did work better having seen it before WALL-E. As a standalone, its good, but not as evocative and I dare say heartwrenching as La Maison en Petits Cubes. That short is a work of art.

    4. You said it all, Nick. I'm understanding now that this wasn't as much of an upset as I originally thought it would be, but that makes a lot more sense. I can't stop thinking about it, and I've just played the film to hear the score several times already.


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